14 Aug 2014

Koh Mak: the tranquil island

We had a long weekend ahead and we needed a break from busy Bangkok; the plan was to find a quiet, relaxing place where we could chill out for a couple of days, far from the noise and pollution of the big city, but we didn't want to travel very far either, so flying was out of the question. After discarding a few options, we settled on Koh Mak, since we had been in the neighbor Koh Kood previously and we had only good memories from it, so this seemed like a safe bet. We booked a nice resort for a reasonable price, took an early van in Victory Monument and, 4 hours and a ferry ride later, we were in the island. The resort's owner was waiting for us at the pier with his pickup, and 10 minutes later we finally reached the hotel. After leaving the bag on the bed, we sat at a deckchair in the balcony and just let the time pass by while contemplating the scene around us.

View from the toilet, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
A peaceful retreat, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Tickling, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The rainy season was almost there, so some resorts were already closed while others, such as ours, were about to do so after this weekend. We were, therefore, the last guests of the season and, wheter for this reason or not, the resort had a specially peaceful and lonely feel to it. The whole island, actually, felt numb and half asleep. I ignore if it is always like this or if during the high season the flow of tourists is more intense, but my experience during those three days there was that of a tranquil, silent and cozy island. After a while, we stood up from our deckchairs, left the shoes behind and walked slowly through the beach that extended just meters from our bungalow.

Previous stroll, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Textures and reflections, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Unfinished bridge, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Progression I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Progression II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Koh Mak is a small island, but not small enough to walk all around it (as is Koh Lipe), so renting a motorbike is the best way to explore every corner of it. So that's what we did, and a short 15 minutes ride later we were at the North side of the island. We parked the bike by the beach, behind the trees, since we had left the small, paved road to venture into a narrow, muddy path following our intuition, and then we walked towards a jetty that could be seen in the distance. But an ominous storm was drawing closer so we had to leave earlier than we would have liked to, promising to come back later when the weather was more generous.

The return, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Sea calligraphy I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Sea calligraphy II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Vagrant boats, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The fading jetty, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Unfortunately that took quite a bit of time, since the monsoon rain lasted for the most part of that morning and afternoon, so we had to postpone our new visit for the following morning. We rose with the sun and, after a conspicuous breakfast, we returned to the jetty to explore the area around it at ease, which included a stranded ship that nobody seemed to care about, since it laid abandoned and unattended, just meters from the empty beach.

Balance required, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The end of the walk, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Stranded chimney I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Stranded chimney II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
In our last afternoon we rode our motorcycle to the Western side of the island and indulged ourselves in another leisure walk along the empty beach, and as soon as I spotted from the distance a small, floating jetty where some kids seemed to be playing and swimming, we headed our steps quickly in that direction, before they would leave the place. It turned out they were a few young immigrant workers enjoying their free time, probably after their work at the resort was done. I exchanged a few words with them and discovered they were all from Myanmar (particularly from the Mon ethnicity, the most abundant in Thailand). Once the sun started to dip, they left the pier, going back to their chores, and we slowly made our way back to our shelter under the beautiful sunset light.

Sea leisure, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Floating dreams, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Floating solitude, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Sunset arrives so we sit down, order a drink, and chill out.

Warm breeze, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The way back, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Growing darkness, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
It was a relaxing weekend indeed, full of fresh air and clear water, both from the sea and from the sky. Koh Mak is an island I will surely come back to whenever I feel I need a break from duties and city life. It remains quiet and modest, though the scenery is not as it originally used to be, as the forests have been mostly replaced by palm tree plantations due to the flat profile of the island, and that introduces the associated problems known. After all, I left the island refreshed, but also with a bittersweet taste in my mouth, a taste of red puddles and monochrome, devastated trunks.

Dead and alive, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Memories, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The crawling trunk, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Desolation, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm

7 Aug 2014

Religious Yangon

This is the last post about my trip to Yangon. Even though I stayed there for just three days, they were so long and intense, so packed with walks and stories, that one post could not fit them all, so I had to split the contents in no less than four entries (you can check them here: monochrome scenes, color scenes and Circular Train). Today we will conclude this beautiful journey with, perhaps, the most recognizable aspect of Myanmar's culture, and, maybe because of that obviousness, I decided to leave it for the closure of this small series. The topic is no other than religion. Myanmar is a deeply religious country, Buddhist in its vast majority, and signs and traces of that can be seen and felt everywhere around the country. Let's begin with its most iconic manifestation: Buddhist monks.

Triumvirate, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Reddish tones, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Refreshment time, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Initiation, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Unusual exposure, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
The reddish and saffron robes of Buddhist monks are ubiquitous around the city, and you will spot them quickly, both old and young, walking in the streets or praying in the pagodas, leisurely strolling in the parks or commuting by public transportation. People respect them profoundly and their presence gives the city an air of purity and retreat despite the chaos and crowds.

Water and prayers, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Load & burden, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Following the current, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
One of a kind, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
But, as common as monks are in Yangon, there is something else that catches everyone's attention even more clearly than them and from a very far distance, for they are tall and shiny: pagodas. There are dozens of pagodas and temples in Yangon, and they all come in different sizes and conditions, but they all have some things in common. To point out a few: pointed, golden stupas, and crowds of devotees praying or resting within their sacred grounds.

Sule Pagoda, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Botataung Pagoda, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Maha Wizara Pagoda, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Maha Wizara & moon, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
Maha Wizara through the canopy, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
Presences, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
But there is one particular pagoda that, singlehandedly, manages to attract more visitors to this city than any other landmark, and that is, obviously, Shwedagon. With is vantage location on top of a generous hill, the massive stupa of Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the whole city and acts as a guide and shepherd for everyone around. It is the most sacred place in the whole country, as it guards relics from past Buddhas, and it receives the visits of thousands of people everyday, both local devotees and foreign tourists, but the pagoda is definitely worth a visit, and walking quietly around its grounds, seeing how the light changes gradually, reflected in the shiny tiles, while the monks pray in every shrine, is a deeply touching experience.

Shwedagon Pagoda I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Shwedagon Pagoda II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Night at Shwedagon Pagoda, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
Staircase to Shwedagon, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A quiet corner I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
A quiet corner II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Candle lights, GM1 + Olympus M Zuiko 45mm
But, even though pagodas are the most usual sights along Yangon streets, the long colonial past the country endured has left its mark in the architecture very visibly, and a few elegant, beautiful Christian churches can still be seen here and there, witnesses of a country that is starting a rapid change in a direction not very clear yet.

Holy Trinity Cathedral I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Holy Trinity Cathedral II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The towers of Saint Mary's Cathedral, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Thanks, Yangon, for all the sights and smiles that you have granted me during these three days. Rest assured that I will be back again!